John Burgess on the Modern Life of Angkor Wat

Despite being built centuries ago, the temples of Angkor are central to the history of modern Cambodia. A silhouette of Angkor Wat has appeared on the flag of every post-independence Cambodian regime, including the murderous Khmer Rouge, who otherwise waged war on every vestige of Cambodia’s premodern past. In a new book, “Angkor’s Temples in the Modern Era: War, Pride and Tourist Dollars” John Burgess details the temples’ tumultuous journey through the modern era, from the dawn of French imperialism through the abyss of war and genocide, to the mass tourism of the present day.

Burgess, the author of several books about Cambodia’s ethereal Angkorian monuments, spoke with The Diplomat about the temples’ role in the modern world – as colonial project, tourist attraction, and nationalist symbol – and their continuing grip on the imagination of Cambodians and foreigners alike.

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